DEL MAR — More than 150 people attended a March 21 rally in an effort to convince the California Coastal Commission to change a March 11 decision to move a boardwalk currently located on the perimeter of an ongoing wetlands restoration project along the San Dieguito River.
“The Coastal Commission, in my humble opinion, got it wrong,” County Supervisor Dave Roberts told the crowd. “And I have asked that they reconsider their decision. Factual information was not provided to the full Coastal Commission and they need to relook at this issue.”
The 1,200-foot structure was built in 2007 by volunteers at a cost of about $354,000. Funding came from donations and San Dieguito River Valley Coastal Conservancy and transportation grants.
Officials from Del Mar, Solana Beach, the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority, the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy and the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which governs the Del Mar Fairgrounds, want the boardwalk to remain where it is.
They say it is an educational and recreational resource that gives visitors an up-close look at the San Dieguito Lagoon.
But according to a Coastal Commission staff report and based on the findings of an ecologist, the heavy use is one reason it should be relocated closer to Jimmy Durante Boulevard when the ongoing restoration of an overflow parking lot previously used by the fairgrounds is completed.
If allowed to remain in its current location, the boardwalk would “introduce significant human interaction that could further degrade the biological productivity within the restoration site,” the staff report states.
Another concern is that the boardwalk could negatively affect the water flow or deteriorate once water is flowing beneath it.
Representatives from the various organizations who want the boardwalk to remain say both claims haven’t been fully substantiated.
According to the staff report, the boardwalk also occupies land within the restoration site that could become an additional 1-acre of wetland habitat.
The Coastal Commission’s final vote was a tie, which meant a request from the JPA to delete a section of a development permit that identifies the structure as interim so it can remain as is was denied.
Commissioners said the JPA could reapply and include ways to mitigate for the 1-acre loss of wetlands resulting from the boardwalk.
On March 20 the JPA board voted to resubmit the same application for another hearing.
“New information about providing mitigation was presented by the Coastal Commission that had a significant impact,” Trish Boaz, executive director of the River Valley Conservancy, said. “We had no opportunity to address that at the meeting.”
Boaz said “ideas for mitigation are being negotiated” but she declined to comment further.
The request for a new hearing must be submitted by April 11.
“We are ready to do that,” Boaz said.
“We’re going to pull out all the stops to appeal this bad decision,” Del Mar Councilman and JPA Chairman Don Mosier said. “We’re hopeful that we’ll get back to the commission and we’ll have a full commission with all 11 members, and instead of a 5-5 tie vote we’ll get a 6-5 winning vote.
“The JPA felt that the commission totally ignored the years of contributions the JPA has made to restoring wetlands,” Mosier added. “This is like we’re a victim of friendly fire. … This is going to be a real fight. It’s a long shot but sometimes the little guy wins.”
“There is no day that I come by here and do not see people using this trail,” former Supervisor Pam Slater-Price said. “This trail is very, very much a part of the community fabric.
“There’s no reason to undo such a beautiful construct that was put here by the citizens,” she added. “This is built by the community. It serves the community. It needs to be made available to the community because how can we get people and children to appreciate the environment if we do not expose them at an early age?”
“Boardwalks are a great way for human beings to interact with nature without disturbing nature,” Eric Lodge, vice president of the River Valley Conservancy said. “It’s absolutely no detriment to the wetlands, the wildlife or the vegetation. It’s a great way for people to enjoy it.”
“It would be an injustice to take this out,” Boaz said.”It’s a public boardwalk paid for by the people. It gives them an opportunity to get close to nature.”
“These wetlands are the Yosemite of Southern California,” Roberts said. “A lot of money went into the restoration. This boardwalk is critical for people to see what true working wetlands look like.”
“It’s a no-brainer to me,” Solana Beach Mayor Lesa Heebner said. “The boardwalk needs to stay where it is.”
Not everyone agrees. Four San Diego residents attended the rally, holding signs that support moving the boardwalk.
“You can’t fully restore the wetlands with this (boardwalk) here,” John Heatherington said. “This is paradise. We want to restore as much as we can.”
“We want them to keep the boardwalk and just move it,” Pam Heatherington said. “There needs to be a full restoration.”
Geo Heatherington said the structure was “well-intended but ill-engineered.”
The next Coastal Commission meeting is April 15, 16 and 17.
Visit the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy website for updates, more information and a QR code to sign a petition to keep the boardwalk.